Can I be a Heretic in the Truth?

“A man may be an heretic in the truth, and if he believes things only because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy.”

John Milton

Do you agree with this? I’m not sure I do.


11 thoughts on “Can I be a Heretic in the Truth?

  1. If this is true, I would estimate that every church member is a heretic in at least one area of theology. I agree that we should know why we believe what we believe, but I am not willing to say we are heretics to not do so.

  2. This is not the true definition of heresy. If I believe something my pastor has said and it is truth, then it is still truth! How profound this is!

  3. Amoslanka, thanks for stopping by. There is indeed a very subjective element to the title “heretic.” One man’s heretic is another’s martyr. Yesterday’s dissenter is today’s saint.

    I would loosely describe heresy as teaching or holding doctrines that are contrary to the standard of truth commonly accepted by your faith. Since each group will believe that their orthodoxy is truth, most will probably disagree with your assessment that orthodoxy is a “consensus of human opinion and tradition.”

    Thanks again for the visit and discussion.

  4. I have thought on this for a couple weeks now, and have concluded that while his comment sounds astute (and I have met people who have held to the truth for no other reason than someone else told them it was the truth), it is not an accurate understanding of heresy. Truth is truth regardless of whether we believe it to be true for the right reasons or with the right intentions.

  5. Chad, it’s the “right intention” part that concerns me the most. Only by constant evaluation can we even begin to understand our personal intentions, motivations, and reasons (and then I’m not sure it can be done accurately), so we would all be in danger of being heretics.

    I’ve really tried to give this quote every benefit of the doubt, but can’t come to any interpretation of it that I find agreeable.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting. Your thoughts are welcome any time.

  6. To be fair to Milton, he didn’t just write this quote and put the pen down. There’s an entire pamphlet he wrote that needs to be wrestled with and that could shed light on what he means in any given part. For instance:

    “Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but when he ascended, and his Apostles after him were laid asleep, then straight arose a wicked race of deceivers, who, as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspirators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb, still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master’s second coming […]”

    He is arguing for religious plurality and against the Absolute Singularity of truth – he is denying that one perspective of truth can be completely satisfying, and asserting that there is more truth in knowing than in knowledge.

    His arguments are subtle and he’s a giant of English literature – not everyone will agree with him, but nobody will come to terms with him through a quick quote.

  7. Certainly one can be a “heretic in the truth”, there are countless such heretics walking around today. What Milton is talking about in this quotation is conformity,, ie, believing as a result of habit and/or social pressure in contrast to believing out of genuine conviction. More than the rightness or wrongness of a particular belief, Milton is urging authenticity,or as Nietzsche states it, “Be who you are.”

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